R.I.P. Roy Halladay

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Still feels strange saying it. Roy Halladay, 2-time Cy Young winner, million time All Star, future Hall of Famer, and only 40 years old, died in a plane crash yesterday. I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw someone retweet something along the lines of “RIP Doc.” I just ignored it, because that could mean anything. Then I saw more and more similar tweets, then I saw the reports about the plane crash. Then it became real. The police on the scene announced Roy Halladay, the pilot, had died. It was a shock. It’s always a shock when I get the notification that a current or recently retired athlete died. Maybe it’s because I still have the mind of a 12-year-old and these guys are all superhuman to me. They’re all in perfect shape and have more physical gifts than the rest of us can dream of, they don’t die. They don’t get hurt outside the playing field. But, as we’ve been getting reminded of far too frequently these days, they’re mortal just like the rest of us.

When the news first broke, I wasn’t in a position to write about it, so I decided to sleep on it and reflect about what Roy Halladay meant to me (because that’s what really matters, right?). Anyone around my age from my part of the country essentially grew up with Roy heavily involved in their development as a baseball fan. I hit my peak baseball viewership at nearly the same time Roy overcame his early-career woes and became the dominant All Star he was for over a decade. I saw him face the Red Sox a thousand times, and while the Sox typically hit him fairly well, it was never a comfortable experience. He had an intimidating demeanor and delivery that always made it seem like he knew something the hitter didn’t, that he had a grander scheme that no one else could comprehend. I also never hated him, which, believe me, was no small feat. Since I always liked my parents and performed well in school, pretty much all of my pubescent angst was concentrated on sports. I hated more athletes in middle school than I think I could even name today. Anyone who ever performed well against one of my teams, or really anyone who didn’t play for one of my teams who ever received any kind of praise for multiple days on PTI or SportsCenter I hated passionately. But I never hated Roy. I think subconsciously, he was always one of my favorite players to watch. Home runs and endless hit parades are fun every now and then and in video games, but in terms of actually watching baseball, Roy embodied every positive quality a pitcher could have: he worked quickly, he threw strikes, he never walked anybody, he pitched to his defense, he always went at least 7 innings. Fast moving baseball games are legitimately some of the best things in sports, and any game with Roy on the hill was almost guaranteed to be under 3 hours. Sure, he was a great, dominant pitcher, but his stuff probably won’t be what I remember him for. It’ll be his ability to make palatable, aesthetically pleasing baseball games, his playoff no-hitter (which doubled as the first playoff baseball game I watched in college, whatever that means), and his reputation for being one of the nicest, most genuine guys in baseball. All of those things should go on his plaque in Cooperstown.

This also made me think about flying. I think a lot of people are going to take this one, tragic incident and be like “why was he flying?” or “this is why I don’t like small planes,” or “this is why you should stay on the ground,” or any similar take. Personally, I love flying. Love, love, love it. Everyone in the world but me hates airports and flying, but I’m okay with that. I also don’t know if I’ve ever said this out loud before, but one of my biggest dreams is to someday get my pilot’s license. I want to fly planes, I want to fly helicopters, all of it. I’ve just always wanted to be the guy that knows how to operate a bunch of different vehicles. Whenever I think of what role I would want in a criminal organization, I’ve always said that if I can’t be the mastermind, I want to be the chauffeur who also flies the company plane and pilots the submarine and all of that. And, clearly, Roy was the same way. He loved flying. If you followed him on Twitter you know he lived for it. It was his biggest passion outside of baseball. You don’t question why someone was driving if they get into a car crash. He died doing something he loved. In the end, that’s all we can really ask for. R.I.P. Roy Halladay.

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Houston Astros Win the World Series

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Well, that was a decent series, huh? Bit of an anticlimactic Game 7, this still has to be considered one of the greatest World Series of all time. Or at least one of the most exciting. Crazy what happens when the two best teams in the league play a seven game series. When the dust settled, the Astros were finally world champions for the first time.

The most obvious storyline for the Astros was the effect a possible title would have on the city of Houston after the devastation of Hurricane Henry. It’s an uplifting story, but I’ll let the people who have real connections to the city dive into all of that. I’ll just say I’m happy for them and I’m grateful that they beat the Yankees. It would feel a little cynical to suggest having their homes (the Astros also have many Puerto Rican players) get destroyed by natural disasters would give them any kind of extra motivation to win the World Series, but I also don’t think you can discount the emotional lift they got every time they played in Houston. I mean, Minute Maid was rocking every night. One of the craziest baseball environments I’ve ever seen on TV. The Astros provided a much needed distraction for the city, and I think relished that role. Or they were just really, really, good and would have won no matter what. Who’s to say?

I’m always fascinated by teams who win either their first ever championship or their first in a super long time. Will they go the route of the Bulls, Spurs, Warriors, Pats, Blackhawks, or Red Sox and ride generational talents and, in the Red Sox’ case, deep pockets to multiple championships? Or will the go the way of the White Sox, Carolina Hurricanes, Mavericks (still love Dirk, though), or Saints where when we look back in 20-30 years, we ask “wait, that team won a title?” I think the Astros are most likely to be the former. For starters, they’ve got elite talent. Going up the middle, their second baseman and shortstop are future Hall of Famers barring injury and their centerfielder is an All Star. That’s three of the four most important positions on the field filled by three of the top, I don’t know, 20-25 players in the league? Then they have two Cy Young winners, one of whom is a lock for the Hall of Fame? And solid players on the corners, including a defensive wizard third baseman that everyone kind of forgot was a rookie this year? That sounds like a recipe for success, to me. Their core guys are still just entering their primes. Yes, the bullpen is capital B BAD, but all those years of tanking gave them a rich farm system they can use to acquire better, more trustworthy arms if they feel the need. They just kind of have that look, too. Most championship teams have it, sure, but if you watch sports long enough you start to recognize the teams with the different mindsets than anyone else. The combination of results and reputation that feed not only their own confidence but lower the other team’s. The Astros just kept coming back, kept getting up off the mat. The Yankees had them dead to rights and they just brushed them off. The Dodgers should have won this series in all honesty, but their bullpen, which had been untouchable all year, started to legitimately believe they couldn’t get anyone out. You see it with the Pats. The run is probably over, but you saw it with the Giants, especially when Bumgarner was on the hill. You see it with the Warriors, and the Cavs (against the East), and with Duncan’s Spurs, and all the great NBA dynasties. Other teams are going to start wondering if they can actually beat them as Altuve and Correa go back to back for the millionth time. Unless there’s some kind of disastrous injury or something of the like, the Astros aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Some random thoughts:

  • Hard Hittin’ New Britain’s own George Springer was named World Series MVP. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it, but both he and I went to the University of Connecticut. I’m not saying that means I deserve a ring, but I’m not saying it doesn’t mean that, either.
  • I love live TV marriage proposals so much. Maybe because they’re always really awkward and forced. Maybe it’s because there’s always the slim chance she says no. Maybe it’s because I enjoy other people experience a moment of joy I’ll never have. Either way, I’m glad Carlos Correa chose last night to propose, regardless of the fact that he couldn’t have picked a worse time or place.
  • When did Yu Darvish become bad? So weird.
  • Andre Ethier has looked the same since ’09 and I don’t think he’s played more than 20 games in a season since then, either.
  • Astros wearing orange in game 7 is an unfair advantage.
  • Everything about Evan Gattis is awesome.
  • I hope having a huge World Series means Joc Pederson is back, both because I love him and because I have an odd obsession with Jewish athletes.
  • It sucks Kershaw couldn’t get it done, but I think the universe decided that letting both Kershaw and the best redhead athlete in America win a championship would be too much.
  • Not to make everything about me and be “insensitive,” but I feel a lot better about the Pats’ playoff chances now that Houston’s cashed in it’s Disaster Team voucher. Don’t need to be worried about facing the Good Mojo team come January.
  • But seriously, donate to Houston and Puerto Rico hurricane relief
  • Can’t wait for April. Red Sox World Series Champions 2018

World Series Thoughts

I’m not sure why I’m so naturally pessimistic when it comes to sports since pretty much everything breaks 100% my way. By the grace of all that is good, the Yankees are out. After winning all three games in the Bronx, they forgot to bring their thumbs down shirts with them on the way to Houston. The specifics of it don’t matter. The only important thing is that they lost. “Why are you so happy, this Yankees team is likable! All the people on the TV told me so!” Please. How can you like getting beaten over the head relentlessly with stories about how young the team is, how desperately Brett Gardner wants to be a True Yankee, how Todd Frazier grew up in Toms River, how Todd Frazier played in the Little League World Series, how Todd Frazier once took a picture with Derek Jeter, how Todd Frazier has this Yankees team really loose, not like all those other stodgy Yankees teams that didn’t have a locker room guy like Frazier or Nick Swisher or David Wells or something on them, how they’ve tried so hard to force the Thumbs Down and stupid in-game interviews down everyone’s throat even though they’re the lamest things of all time? It’s like how every single March Madness Harvard will be labeled as this lovable underdog even though they’re Harvard and all those kids are going to be rich and powerful one day. Yankees are neither likable nor scrappy underdogs, and everyone should be happy they’re gone. Dodgers dominated the Cubs in the National League.

Astros-Dodgers seemed like the obvious matchup all season, raising the question of whether or not baseball has a competitiveness problem. I mean, what does the regular season even matter if we already know who’s going to be in the World Series? Why should I ever watch before the playoffs? Why should I even watch the playoffs, for that matter? It’s all predetermined. And there’s all these super teams. The players just join together in free agency to try and game the system. They’re all soft and entitled, too. This is why hockey’s better. A guy like Kevin Durant would never survive the- whoops, sorry. The NBA season starting early has my defense mechanisms all out of whack. In truth, it’s actually kind of nice having the two best regular season teams play in the World Series, for once. The way the baseball playoffs work, this is rare, and we should cherish the fact that we know every game will be well-played and competitive. No, there’s no novelty of a random team going for an unexpected title. Instead, there’s two actually good teams. Weird.

In my mind, the traditional factors that lead to success in baseball point towards the Dodgers. Even if want to get generous with the starting pitching comparisons, on the whole the Dodgers clearly have the superior arms. The Astros don’t trust anyone in their bullpen so they just throw their fourth and fifth starters out there and hope for the best. The Dodgers’ bullpen has allowed, like, one run in eight games. Verlander and Keuchel are certified beasts. Can’t deny it. If they both go twice, it’s easy to see the Astros going 4-0 in those games. Except the Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw. And Yu Darvish. And Rich Hill. By any statistic, the Dodgers grade as one of the best defensive teams in the league. The Astros are one of the worst. Both lineups are deep and powerful and, if Corey Seager plays well in his return from injury, will probably cancel each other out, as will the managers. That leaves the Dodgers with the only clear advantages. However, and this is a big however, the Astros are the Tragedy Team. Not to trivialize, but you never want to be the team going against the Tragedy Team. Look at the 2013 Red Sox. Or the 2009 Saints (took a while but the whole city was pretty much destroyed). Or the 2001 Yankees (just kidding. Their own black magic combined with the power of the Tragedy Team to create anti-mojo). Houston hasn’t had a ton to cheer for since 1995. The Astros are a scrappy, feel good team that’s easy to get behind. They blew a lead then came back to win, so you know they’re feeling like they can overcome anything. Feel kind of bad for the Dodgers, honestly. They picked the wrong year to finally put it all together.

Pick: Astros in 6

If John Farrell Ever Manages Another Game for the Red Sox I’m Renouncing My Fandom

Red Sox lost. A Gentleman’s Sweep, 3-1. I don’t know if you can still have a Gentleman’s Sweep in a five game series, but whatever. They looked listless and lifeless in the first two games, came roaring back in game 3 after David Price made the Astros call him daddy, then blew it in game 4 thanks to the worst managerial staff of all time. John Farrell is the biggest idiot of all time. A true buffoon. A moron of the highest order. I’m not sure he actually understands the game of baseball at a little league level. He needs to be fired ASAP. He needs to be fired before I finish writing this. He needs to be fired before he can infect Giancarlo Stanton (who the Sox are sure to give up everyone they’ve ever scouted for, can’t wait) or J.D. Martinez (who will cost $800 million, but, hey, it’s not my money) with whatever disease he infested this team with. The main symptoms are apathy and terrible baserunning decisions, and everyone on the 2017 Red Sox caught the bug.

I’m just so sick of Farrell. He cost them this series almost singlehandedly. He cost them last season’s playoffs. He’s cost them countless games through the years. This series was the perfect microcosm of his foolishness: Don’t start Hanley in game one; instead start Nunez who couldn’t even walk and get surprised when he gets hurt. Don’t start Devers in game 2 even though he destroys left-handed pitching so you can start lefty specialist Chris Young, who had a .590 OPS against lefties this year. Started Doug Fister. Left his starters in way too long every game as they were getting absolutely destroyed, digging insurmountable holes. Refused to put Craig Kimbrel in the game. When he finally did  today, (I know he was ejected today, but come on. They were still his decisions) it was in the middle of the 8th, instead of the start of the inning for some reason. He left Chris Sale, who had shown the Astros the what the Face of God looks like for four innings but was clearly done, in the game to start said 8th inning, only to be surprised when he game up a tying home run. Messed with the batting order despite Xander Bogaerts finally getting his rhythm back in the leadoff spot, because…..I don’t know why. He doesn’t understand how baseball works anymore. Last season completely changed how you have to manage games. You can’t just be like “oh, he’s the starter give him time to work through it,” or “a closer is only for the ninth inning.” The best pitchers have to pitch in the biggest innings, and, newsflash, that’s pretty much always the first, when, you know, their best players hit. There can’t be any kind of leash in the postseason. If someone allows the first three guys to get on, take him out. It’s not rocket science. I wouldn’t have hated it if Kimbrel started every game. At least they wouldn’t have been down a million to nothing. Whatever. This team was cursed the second they let Pablo Sandoval into the locker room. A full season without that fat piece of shit will be exactly that the doctor ordered.

Now that the Sox are out, I’m really only rooting against the Yankees. I’d pretty much be fine with anyone else winning, but I’d prefer the Indians (Francona), Astros (fellow UConn alum George Springer), or Diamondbacks (former Red Sox manager-to-be Torey Lovullo and future Red Sox J.D. Martinez and Paul Goldschmidt). Just not the Yankees. I really don’t want to have to deal with that this year.

2017 MLB Division Series Preview

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Ahhhh, what a season. Can you feel it? Can you smell it? Can you hear it? The wind whistling through the autumn foliage. The crunch of the fallen leaves underfoot. The snap of crisp apples. The warm, nostalgic aromas of cinnamon and nutmeg. The over-saturation of pumpkin flavored food items. It’s playoff baseball SZN, and I couldn’t be happier. Well, happy might not be the right word. I don’t think baseball will give me any lasting happiness until the Red Sox win the World Series. Watching playoff baseball when your team is involved is like getting a thousand tiny needles jammed into you every second. Each pitch could be the one that breaks your back or finally gives you some release on the tension that’s been building inside of you for four hours. If you can, I recommend setting up a TV or streaming the game in the bathroom, because when the starting pitcher loads the bases with no outs in the third inning and gets pulled, your nerves are probably going to be running pretty high and your sphincter pretty tight. You can try to calm yourself by drinking or eating a bunch of pizza or wings or something, but personally I get too nervous to ingest anything. I’d say a playoff baseball game is pretty much an extended version of the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Oh, what’s that? 90% don’t know what it’s like to have your team play in and win multiple Super Bowls? Wow. Bad analogy, then. Anyway, playoff baseball is a terrible ordeal to go through, but I wouldn’t change anything about it. Because if your team pulls through in a 2-1 grind or wins a series or somehow wins the World Series, there’s no better feeling in the world. With that setup, it’s time to get to the preview. Now, I make fun of Hockey Guys for saying this exact thing during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but since this is baseball and I’m a Baseball Guy, it’s okay when I say it: literally anything can happen in the playoffs. Individual baseball games are the least consequential pieces of data in sports, and even in a seven game series, let alone the five game Division series, the best team doesn’t really always win. So much of what determines the results of playoff baseball games is all luck or chance: a random error by a usually sure-handed fielder, an 8th inning home run by the backup catcher with a career .583 OPS, a Cy Young-caliber pitcher starts walking a bunch of guys and giving up homers. It’s such an easy and unquantifiable thing to say, but the game really does come down to mental toughness and “cluchness,” which means that no one knows what’s going to happen and it’s virtually impossible to say who’s going to win. That’s never stopped me from trying, though.

Boston Red Sox vs. Houston Astros

The last time I wrote about the Red Sox, I was saying they might be able to make a deep run because they were so under-the-radar. Well, that was all based on the clearly absurd notion that the Red Sox would actually finish the season playing well. How foolish of me. Much like a child who doesn’t want to eat their vegetables, the Sox had to be forced to win the division or risk going to bed early without dessert. They begrudgingly took care of business, but they’ll be damned if they give any more effort than is absolutely necessary to play a baseball game. It’s stupid to say a ten game stretch was enough to get me off the Red Sox bandwagon that I’ve been on since the say I was born, but this year’s team was so weird and I don’t trust them at all. If Chris Sale can’t win today, it’ll be a sweep. I appreciate the early start time this afternoon, because it’ll free me up to watch one of my teams that actually is going to win the championship this year (btw, I looooooooooooooooooooooove Pats -6. You may never hear from me again I’ll be so rich after tonight). Astros are good but not in an intimidating way, so if things go 100% right the Sox will still win, I just know they won’t. Still, I won’t be on the wrong side of history should things go in my favor.

Red Sox in 4

New York Yankees vs. Cleveland Indians

Nothing would make me happier than an Indians curb stomp, but I think we all know that’s probably not going to happen. As you might have heard, the Yankees are Back, despite this being a rebuilding year. What that means is that Yankee fans are in perfect position to be the ultimate versions of themselves. If they go on a run and possibly win it all, they get to tell everyone to kiss the rings (that they won when there were 4 teams and no black players) and remind everyone that they weren’t even supposed to be good this year, so who knows how many consecutive championships they’ll win. If the Indians beat them, they can still call for wholesale change, forgetting their favorite line all year, “we weren’t even supposed to be good this year.” It’s a can’t lose situation for the typical obnoxious Yankee fan, so, in that regard, we’ve all already lost. On the field, they’re actually pretty similar teams, with deep, explosive lineups and great bullpens. However, whatever it really means in today’s game, the Indians have more good starting pitching. Severino might as well just not show up anymore, leaving the Yanks with whatever version of Tanaka they get, Sonny Gray, and the reanimated corpse of CC Sabathia. Not great. All realistic signs point to the Indians, which means only one thing.

Yankees in 5

Chicago Cubs vs. Washington Nationals

Love the Cubs this year. All the historical angst is gone, and, for some unfathomable reason, there’s absolutely no pressure on the defending champ in a massive market. Literally no one is talking about them, and they’re just as great as last year. I’ll die before I predict playoff success for a D.C. team.

Cubs in 4

Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

Too bad the Rockies didn’t win to break up this run of red and blue teams. I’m super conflicted about this series, because on one hand, I would love to see Kershaw finally start dominating the playoffs and blowing fools away. If he won a World Series while pitching at his historic level and shoved it in all the h8rz faces, I’d be so happy. But on the other hand, this DBacks team is awesome. I’m all in on the Great J.D. Martinez Contract Hunt of 2017, and I’ve got a feeling Goldschmidt is going to make me regret dismissing his MVP chances. Their pitching is good on paper but not good enough to keep any game from getting interesting late, meaning all of these games are going to last 6 hours. Everyone else will bail and complain about how long they are, but I bask in the glow of pitching changes, bad defensive plays, home runs, and mental breakdowns (as long as it’s not the Red Sox). I’m actually excited to watch both National League series, something I can’t say about the American League, and this one promises to be the most exciting. Or a Dodgers sweep. But, since I think I want the DBacks to win because it’d be more fun, I’m thinking the latter.

Dodgers in 4

The Division Series round seems like it last two seconds. If you’re not 100% plugged in, you can easily miss games, developments, big moments, and meltdowns. But luckily for you, I don’t miss anything, so I’ll be here to break down everything. Every mistake, every clutch home run, every time someone Earns Their Pinstripes, everything. Nothing quite like playoff baseball, folks.

2017 MLB Awards

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Seems like only yesterday that I was previewing every division in anticipation for the coming baseball season, and yet here we are at the end. It was a crazy season full of streaks and slides, absurd individual performances (good and bad), and plenty of hot takes to go around. If your team didn’t make the playoffs (can’t relate), don’t be sad the season’s over, smile because it happened (unless you’re a Mets, Padres, Giants, Tigers, Blue Jays, Braves, Phillies, Rangers, A’s, Marin- actually, you probably should just be sad if your team didn’t make the playoffs). If your team is in, hope you had your annual colonoscopy because your butthole is going to be uncomfortably tight for the next month. Believe me, snacking during games helps (bonus, completely out-of-nowhere Chip Power Rankings: 1. Cape Cod Dark Russet 2. Ruffles All Dressed 3. Doritos Spicy Nacho 3. Cape Cod Salt and Vinegar 5. Santitas Tortilla Chips). I’ll get into the playoff experience later when I do a full playoff preview, but I’d rather have my team miss the playoffs than have to play in the wildcard game, and, if they aren’t going to win the World Series, I want them to lose ASAP. Being emotionally invested in 10-20 playoff baseball games only to not come out on top is one of the worst feelings of all time. On a related note, I’m sure you’re all looking for my wildcard picks, but predicting the outcomes of single baseball games in a winner-take-all atmosphere is virtually impossible, so I’ll just say I’d be awfully surprised if the Yankees or DBacks lost. Anyway, time to get on the the Official Brian’s Den 2017 MLB Awards, which are sure to perfectly reflect the actual awards whenever they finally get handed out. I’m dedicating this to the memory of Tom Petty, one of the five most influential American musicians ever, the greatest road trip artist of all time, and the perfect soundtrack to any baseball discussion.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

American League– Aaron Judge, New York Yankees

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I think we can all agree on this one, no?

Apologies to: Andrew Benintendi

National League– Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers

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Boy, this is easy!

Apologies to: Rhys Hoskins

MANAGER OF THE YEAR

American League– Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians

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Listen, I’ve never been one to hide my biases, and Tito is my guy for life for his time with the Red Sox, but homerism doesn’t factor in, here. When you win 22 straight games with two of your three best position players out, coax a league-leading ERA out of a pitching staff that was hit with injuries all season long, and generally improved a team that was one inning away from winning the World Series last year, you get my vote. Actually, homerism probably does play a factor, because Paul Molitor of the Twins has a strong case, and is probably going to win the actual award because, when it comes to Coach of the Year awards in literally any sport, voters always take the easy way out and just give it to whoever lead a team that was supposed to be shitty to a good record (Molitor is actually a good manager, though, and does deserve to win).

Apologies to: Paul Molitor

National League– Torey Lovullo, Arizona Diamondbacks

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All these great baseball minds to come through the Red Sox organization in the last few years, and we’re stuck with John Farrell? Why? I know I just kind of bashed the thought process that having an unexpected winning season is enough to win Coach of the Year, but Lovullo didn’t take a group of young guys who were going to be good anyway to the top or completely revamp the roster and bring in his guys. At the start of the season, the DBacks had pretty much the exact same team as last year, when they were terrible. Literally the only change they made was adding J.D. Martinez midseason, and, by then, they were already in position to make the playoffs, anyway. So clearly Lovullo was doing something right. They had better injury luck, sure, but he also managed the lineups, bullpen, and personalities of the team better than anyone in the National League. Baseball is a mental game more than anything, and he turned a team full of head cases and malcontents into a legitimate title contender.

Apologies to: Dave Roberts, Bud Black

CY YOUNG

American League– Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians

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Sigh. At the All Star break, I really thought I’d be sitting here talking about Chris Sale’s unbelievable dominance and how it was the greatest trade of all time, but, in good faith, I can’t give it to anyone but Kluber. Hot take, saying the guy who lead baseball in ERA and WHIP and was third in strikeouts should win Cy Young, I know. The narrative you’ll hear about this was that Sale faded down the stretch while Kluber surged, but that’s not necessarily accurate. His second half ERA (3.12) wasn’t that much higher than his first half ERA (2.75), and his WHIP and opponents’ slash lines were higher, but not that much higher. He actually struck people out at a higher rate in the second half than the first. It’s just that, while Sale was seemingly alternating between giving up five runs and zero, Kluber was giving up nothing every time out. He was excellent in the first half, and then became otherworldly in the second, posting an 11-1 record with a 1.79 ERA, 142 strikeouts, and 12 (!!!) walks over 110 innings. Those are decent numbers. It doesn’t factor in, but Kluber’s got a air of invincibility about him right now that no American League pitcher has.

Apologies to: Chris Sale

National League– Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

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It was reeeeeeeeeeeeallly tempting to say Kershaw, but I’m a big durability guy, and, because Dusty Baker would throw him out there for 8 innings if both his arms literally fell off his body, I’ll take the guy who still had unreal numbers and didn’t miss (much) time. He’s been a strikeout beast ever since he came into the league, and he just keeps improving on his ERA, ERA+, and WHIP every year. He allowed the fewest hits per 9 innings since Pedro Martinez in 2000, who wasn’t even really human. He slowed down juuuuuust a bit late, but that’ll happen when you’re a little banged up and forced to pitch anyway. The only problem he might run in to is that he has two teammates that could draw votes from him.

Apologies to: Clayton Kershaw, Gio Gonzalez, Steven Strasburg, Robbie Ray

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

National League– Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

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Switching up the league order here, and for good reason, as you’ll soon discover. This is the closest race out of all the awards, and at least five guys have legitimate claims. First off, I know I’ve established this before, but team success should have absolutely no impact on MVP voting. None. It’s icing on the cake, not the cake itself. One man can only effect 162 baseball games so much. There’s too many variables, too many things outside of anyone’s control, just too many weird things that happen during the course of a full season to say that a guy with 50+ homers or a league-leading on-base percentage and OPS actually wasn’t good because their teams stunk. With that out of the way, I’m all in on Giancarlo. His supernova hot-streak was the most fun couple weeks of the season, and his pursuit of 60 homers became the most interesting subplot in the National League. If you want to throw out team success, the Marlins briefly flirted with a possible wildcard spot, and it was solely because of Stanton. He had 33 home runs after the All Star break, and was pretty much unstoppable all season. He was a feel-good story for a franchise desperate for some good energy (even though he’s probably getting traded this offseason), and hits the most aesthetically-pleasing home runs this side of New York City. I would also listen to cases for Joey Votto, the most under-appreciated future Hall of Famer ever who just painted his masterpiece of plate control, or Nolan Arenado, the most complete blend of elite offense and defense in the league.

Apologies to: Joey Votto, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Charley Blackmon, J.D. Martinez

Cross-League– J.D. Martinez, Detroit Tigers/Arizona Diamondbacks

J.D. Martinez

I just wanted to create this award to recognize J.D. Martinez a bit. Do people realize what kind of season he had? He was third in MLB in home runs while playing in 119 games! He hit a home run every 9.6 at bats. Stanton? 10.1. Cody Bellinger, who finished 10th in the league in slugging percentage, is closer to Giancarlo Stanton, number 2, than Stanton is to Martinez’s unreal .690 slugging, the highest since someone named Barry Bonds was playing. He tied the record for most home runs ever hit in September. He has a real case to be National League MVP despite playing 62 games in Arizona. There’s never been a better case for Contract Year Magic, and because MLB doesn’t have any kind of First Team All MLB or anything, the only thing J.D. will get out of this absurd season is a big fat new contract.

American League– Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

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As I said in the Cy Young section, I’m a big fan of durability, and, by proxy, consistency. That’s really the only thing separating Altuve from Aaron Judge. Normally, one valley in a long season full of peaks wouldn’t be enough to sway an MVP vote, but when the valley is as low as the one Judge went through right after the All Star break, it’s hard to ignore. There was about a month and a half where Judge was legitimately one of the worst players in baseball. He hit .185 in August, for crying out loud! Altuve was great all season. Sure he doesn’t have the flashy power numbers, but don’t let that distract you from his all-around game. Whatever batting average actually means these days, Altuve lead the league in it and hit .485 in July. .485! He added a .410 on base, .547 slugging, and 24 home runs, all pretty atypical for 5’6″ second basemen. He stole 32 bases, and is in general a better baserunner than Judge. Judge isn’t a bad fielder by any means, but there’s a reason you put the kid that picks daisies in right field. Altuve plays a premium defensive position and plays it well. He the most well rounder player in the American League, and has been all season. And, yes, the Astros won 100 games.

Apologies to: Aaron Judge, Corey Kluber

Red Sox Clinch Playoff Berth, Are in Great Position to Make Some Proverbial Noise

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It got kind of brushed over yesterday because of Chris Sale becoming the first American League pitcher to get 300 strikeouts in a season since the G.O.A.T. Pedro Martinez in 1999, but the Red Sox officially clinched a playoff berth last night. They haven’t wrapped up the division yet, but you’d like to think they could hold on to a three game lead with twelve games left (yeah, yeah, I remember chicken and beer). I’ll forgive you for not being overly excited about the Sawx going to the playoffs for the second straight year. I’m excited enough for everyone. After all, I know how the MLB Playoffs work, and the Red Sox are in prime position to win it all this year.

If you’re done rolling your eyes, allow me to explain. In an almost unthinkable twist considering the fervor surrounding the magnificent Chris Sale trade, there’s almost no pressure on the Red Sox at all coming in. They’ve gone seriously under the radar this season, and honestly, I don’t really blame people for not caring about them, especially compared to the splashier teams in the American League. Who wants to talk about the boring, no offense Red Sox when the Yankees are Officially Back and slugging homers left and right? Or when the Astros got off to a blistering start that captured everyone’s imagination? Or, most of all, when last year’s American League champion Indians pulled down their pants and took a giant dump directly on the rest of the league, winning an ungodly 22 straight games? The Red Sox are an afterthought. Heck, if the Angels can get the second wild card spot and put Mike Trout in the playoffs, Boston might suddenly become the least interesting playoff team in the entire league. Which is great news.

I’ll get into the playoffs on a larger scale later, but the MLB playoffs are crazy. Entire seasons can swing on one pitch, one hit, one error, one hot or cold streak, literally anything can happen. And what usually happens? A random ass team wins. We had the prohibitive season-long favorite win last year. That hasn’t happened twice in a row since Jeter’s heyday. I’m betting this season’s champion will be an unexpected one. In the American League, the only real candidates for that are the Red Sox and the second wild card team, and, let’s be honest, whoever “wins” the second spot is just going to get smashed by the Yankees. Being under the radar is almost always a positive in sports, and the lifting of the massive expectations placed on them before the season should free up the players to finally perform to their full potential.

Obviously this isn’t set in stone. Even by MLB’s standards, where everyone can have a poorly-timed 2 for 20 stretch and there are no guarantees, the Red Sox are particularly iffy. They greatly underperformed most of the year, especially on offense. Hanley Ramirez regressed badly, Jackie Bradley, Jr. mostly stalled out at the plate, Mitch Moreland couldn’t meet the unfair expectations put on him, and, even though he’s having his best month of the season and finally resembles the superstar from last year, Mookie Betts didn’t even really come close to matching last year, where he would have been good enough to win MVP in a Mike Trout-free world. Now that David Price is in the bullpen (which I like, btw) and Doug Fister turned back into a pumpkin, I’m not sure there’s a starter besides Chris Sale that I feel all that great about being on the mound with the season on the line. John Farrell might be the most clueless manager in the league. But they still have one of the most talented rosters in the bigs. It seems like everyone has a great bullpen these days, but I’d put the Sox’s against anybody (provided Farrell learns how to use it). Outside of Rafael Devers, they play great defense. During the brief portion of the season when they were hot, they looked like world beaters. And guess what? Their final three series of the season are against the Reds, who are terrible, the Blue Jays, who are terrible, and the Astros, who have been sleepwalking since the middle of June (and who the Red Sox have owned since the Astros became good in 2015). I mostly think people use the idea of momentum as a way to say a team is playing well at the time, but the Red Sox could easily build some “momentum” before the playoffs by winning a lot of these last few games. Momentum itself may be largely a myth, but a player performing better when he’s feeling confident isn’t. The Sox are in perfect position to go into the playoffs supremely confident and finally actually hitting the ball. That’s half the battle. But, knowing the Red Sox, they’ll go 4-8 and lose the Wild Card game.